Edward VIII Coins and Related Ephemera, from the Estate of the late Miss Fairlie Hopkin

Edward VIII Coins and Related Ephemera, from the Estate of the late Miss Fairlie Hopkin

Fairlie Edith Mary Hopkin (1915 - 2015)

Fairlie Edith Mary Hopkin (1915-2015), legal secretary and personal assistant to Sir (Albert) George Allen, DSO, MC (1888-1956), co-founder of the well-known London solicitors Allen & Overy. Sir George was appointed private solicitor to the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson in 1935 on the recommendation of Walter Monckton, the Prince’s legal adviser, whose life Allen had helped save in the trenches while serving with the South Staffordshire Regiment. Along with Churchill and Beaverbrook, Allen was instrumental in persuading Edward VIII to address the nation directly during the abdication crisis in 1936 and during the ten days in December of that year which shook the nation he and Monckton led an inner circle of advisers. At the beck and call of the king, Allen helped with the drafting of the abdication speech, advised on the terms of possible Bills to be put before Parliament to allow the abdication and to expedite the divorce of Wallis Simpson, and to seek Counsel’s opinion on whether, as Duke of Windsor, he could legally be prevented from returning to the UK. At Fort Belvedere on Abdication Day he calmly advised the King regarding his telephone calls to Mrs Simpson in France and, after the King left for the continent on 11 December 1936 was closely involved with reaching the financial settlement from the Civil List. The two men kept in touch until Sir George’s death in August 1956 and the Duke was to say of him “George Allen stood like a stone wall during our worst hours. At a time of extreme tension he would have one calm pronouncement, ‘I won’t be stampeded.’”

Fairlie Hopkin joined the then nascent firm of Allen & Overy at 3 Finch Lane, just behind the Royal Exchange, in November 1930, after replying to a newspaper advertisement for a shorthand typist. A fairhaired, smartly dressed teenager then living in Leyton, Essex, she was paid 15 shillings a week, “five shillings for my season ticket, five shillings to my mother and five shillings to keep myself” as she later recorded. “When I was accepted as being quite capable it went up to £1.” Miss Hopkin became No. 3 secretary to Albert George Allen (or AGA as he was known in the firm), being promoted to No. 2 secretary in 1936 and No. 1 in 1939, when, respectively, her colleagues Doris Oakfield and Marjorie Curryer left to get married. From 1939 until Sir George Allen retired from the firm in 1953, Miss Hopkin was a confidante of both Sir George and his wife Florence; she described Sir George as a “rather serious, but very kind” man. She recalled that phone calls and visits from the Duke of Windsor to Finch Lane, both before and after the Abdication, were treated with the utmost priority and confidentiality. Upon Sir George’s retirement from Allen & Overy, Miss Hopkin left to continue working for him in a consultancy based in Hanover Square and he continued to represent the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The Duke remained a popular figure with the public and in 1954, when the London coin dealer Geoffrey Hearn decided to strike a set of fantasy coins commemorating Edward’s brief reign, he would doubtless have had to approach Sir George Allen for permission. Unfortunately the dramatis personæ involved are all deceased and so exact details of the authorisation are not now known. What is evident from surviving specimens, however, is that the design commission was given to the sculptor George Alfred Holman (1911-80), from Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, who, from about 1945, modelled many medals to the designs of, and under the direction of, John Robert Pinches (1884-1968). Holman’s first design paired a left-facing portrait of Edward, in line with the then king’s wishes in 1936, with a stylised St George on a rearing horse facing right, spearing the dragon at close range, with the date below (Giordano FM1; cf. DNW 129, 477). The reverse punch, bearing the date 11 · 1 · 55, which surfaced at auction in the US in 1999 (CNG 17 March 1999, 2335), was purchased by Joseph Giordano; in the Giordano sale (Spink 206, 21 October 2010, lot 220), it was acquired by Richard Lobel. In the absence of any surviving documentation, this punch provides a unique timeline to the Hearn issues. It would appear that, after a limited number of pieces of Giordano type I were struck, the obverse was paired with five new reverse dies, although it is unclear as to whether Holman had a hand in their execution. These new reverses depicted a mounted figure of St George to left, slaying the dragon (Great Britain), a kangaroo standing left (Australia), a three-masted sailing ship (Bermuda), an elephant walking right (Ceylon) and a kiwi bird (New Zealand). Pieces on thick flans (such as the Fairlie Hopkin specimens) are originals struck by John Pinches (Medallists) Ltd at their factory in Clapham High street, London; those on thinner flans are restrikes made in the 1960s to satisfy demand from the burgeoning coin collecting community of the day. Their marketing was handled directly by Geoffrey Hearn from his base at 175 Piccadilly, London; US enquiries were routed via the dealers Hans Schulman and William ‘Foxy’ Steinberg in New york. Regrettably, when the Franklin Mint acquired Messrs. Pinches in 1969, they destroyed the original Pinches invoices and factory records from about 1930. There have been a good many opinions expressed concerning the ethics of striking these, and the later post-1972 issues by the Pobjoy Mint and others, many of which are hallmarked so as to render them as medals in the eyes of officialdom (Linecar, SNC May 1981, p.161 et seq.)